Monday, May 30, 2005

Why is the U.S. STILL in Iraq?

[PART I of the Global War on Terror - The Year in Review]

- Why are we STILL in Iraq?

To finish the job and move on.

- What does that mean? People are still dying horribly over there! You were wrong - the end of the Coalition Authority didn't mean an end to the insurgency.

Don't call it an "insurgency". It's a guerilla.

- Then why doesn't anybody call them that?

Under the 1977 protocol of the Geneva Convention -- a protocol not ratified by the U.S. -- guerillas have prisoner-of-war rights. So coalition forces don't use the term. People also believe "guerillas" must be natives, so the Iraqis don't like it, either. The press won't use the term because--

- because "Guerilla" sounds too much like "gorilla", right?

Maybe. It's true that the July-to-January period was marked by violence. But by "soiling their own nest" the terrorists lost more support among the Iraqi people. It was the Iraqi election itself the took much of the wind out of the terrorists, as each side realized the true will of the Iraqi people and measured each other's military strength.

- What do you mean?

One can assume that the terrorists left nothing in reserve and made a maximum effort to disrupt the January elections. In other words, they all came out of hiding to fight. That's how the number of estimated terrorists dropped from 20,000 to 3,500. Voter turnout was high, except for those areas plagued by terrorists or former Ba'athist strongholds. It is just as I wrote last year: those Iraqis who believe in democracy are those who don't want any more Saddams. The "domestic" component of the terrorists are organized and funded by the ex-Ba'athists. Most (not all) of the radical Islamic component comes from abroad, from Al-Qaeda. The Shiite majority never wanted Saddam back and even the radical Shias are part of the democratic process now.

- Do we have Iran to thank for that?

I don't think so; the Iraqi Shiite leadership assures us of their independence. They tell us they seek to build their leadership from the Iraqi Najaf school of Shiite thinking, rather than the Iranian Qom school of Shiite thought. That means, apparently, "Hands off!" - Direct involvement in secular affairs is not appropriate for the clergy, not if the secular government is truly representative.

- That sounds just like the American approach!

Not quite. The final shape of the Iraqi constitution is still being debated -- the political process I envisioned as occurring six months ago is happening now -- but one thing seems clear: Iraqis will never see their political candidates officially vetted by Muslim clergy the way Iranians do.

- What does the U.S. do next in Iraq?

With the formation of a new and democratic Iraqi government, it is important to "wrap up" the guerilla quickly, so the new government gains legitimacy. That is the purpose of our recent ferocious offensives near Al-Qaim, around Baghdad, and elsewhere: combined coalition and Iraqi forces are destroying the organized "insurgency". Doubtless, there will still be individual terrorist acts, but we will deny them even a clan-level base of population support anywhere in Iraq to pursue their murderous ends.

- Clan level?

Many Iraqis give their loyalty to their family first, then the clan, the tribe, their religious affiliation, and finally the nation. Saddam used this system to great effect; everyone in it is motivated to remain loyal and thus it is an efficient means to keep secrets and wield power. Early on, we discovered many terrorists or their supporters are also organized by the family clan system, many of them criminals and smugglers.

- How can we beat this clan system?

Such a system has unique weaknesses as well as strengths. For example, all of Saddam's close bodyguards were from just a few clans. Once we knew who these clans were, it was only a matter of time before we had Saddam himself. Defeat the criminal clans and the terrorists hiding with them, and you defeat the guerilla. What's left will more closely resemble the Baader-Meinhof gang than the Khmer Rouge of the 1980s.

- Why is the insurgency still fighting, then? Look at all those bombs!

As the terrorists lose support, their terror is not directed less at us, and more at the Iraqis themselves. The guerillas wish to expand their base beyond the few clans that are supporting them. They are trying to do so by terrorizing the populace.

- So the attacks are part of a grand recruitment drive?

Yes. That's how the Ba'athists rose to power in the first place. But we will defeat them. Iraqis realize that now and are cooperating with Iraqi & coalition forces as never before. They never wish to see Ba'athist rule ever again, and the Sunni population is losing its fears of cooperating with the Shia- and Kurd- led government. After the next election, Iraqi Sunnis will be part of the democratic process; terrorists won't hold them back.

- You say we are finishing up the insurgency in Iraq now. Why didn't we do that months, even years ago? Why didn't we go in stronger, and establish Iraq as a safe democracy right away? And why didn't we say right from the first that our purpose was to bring democracy to the Iraqi people, rather than eliminate Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction?

[sigh] We didn't liberate - and that's the correct term, make no mistake - Iraq out of wholly altruistic reasons. We had purposes of our own.

First, we know - and the Kurds won't let anyone forget - that Saddam had WMDs in the past. He had ceased cooperating with the U.N. in its efforts to root them out. Saddam was openly and actively funding terrorism elsewhere in the world. So it was easy to imagine Saddam cooperating with terrorists to the extent of giving them a nuke or deadly germ or nerve poison, just to keep his own skin intact a little longer. There may still be some hidden away, but the power to employ them is gone.

Second, of all the nasty regimes out there, Saddam's was the most vulnerable. All of his neighbors bore grudges, most of them wanted him dead or out of power, and surveillance established just how weak his armies' were in training, national defense, and morale.

Third, just suppose we had invaded Iraq with a half-million-man army like that which we used to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in 1990. We might have succeeded in establishing stability immediately, yet we would have failed to help reform an Arab society to desire, of its own accord, democracy in preference to secular or religious dictatorship. The heavy hand of such an occupation might serve to generate a real insurgency, which would be suppressed by U.S. forces -- not Iraqi troops -- and thus create additional resentment against the U.S. in the population. Iraq would be dependent upon such an occupying army for years or decades.

Fourth, terrorists attack when they sense weakness, not strength. Had we established a strong occupation we might have spared Iraqis much suffering, yet we would have failed to entice the terrorists away from plans to strike on U.S. soil. It would be almost the same as if the U.S. had never invaded Iraq at all.

Finally, if we had emphasized our central purpose was the establishment of Iraqi democracy - though we always listed it as one of our purposes - our support would have been diminished and the invasion would likely never have happened. For we would never have had the support of many of our Arab allies to host U.S. troops in the first place; none of them is a democracy. Furthermore, we would have been accused of hypocrisy: why does the U.S. want to invade an Arab country to establish democracy instead of invading Zimbabwe, Cuba, or Uzbekistan? Admitting we invaded for the purpose of establishing democracy would not have earned us any brownie points with the lefty crowd, or with the Europeans; they would always be searching for an ulterior motive. And because rebuilding Iraq would be certain to involve Western businesses in one form or the other, they would always be able to find one.

- You don't think the U.S. has made any big mistakes in Iraq at all, do you?

I do not. What could we have done differently, and to serve what purposes? So far the Iraq-as-flypaper strategy has worked, though the cost is high for Iraqi soldiers and civilians. When Osama Bin-Laden sent out a call recently for his lieutenant, Zarqawi, to attack the U.S., it seems the response was that doing so was currently impractical, as the supply of martyrs available was much smaller than a few years ago.

As of today, U.S. troops, many deployed in enticingly un-armored Humvees and thin-skinned trucks, have slaughtered terrorists at a ratio of perhaps thirty-to-one. That is my conservative best guess, given the news reports from Fallujah and Al-Qaim.

The human cost, so far, has been eighteen hundred troops dead, and over ten thousand wounded. The human benefit has been the liberation of some twenty-five million souls.

Let us respect our dead soldiers, and consider the great sacrifices they made for our freedom, on this Memorial Day.

[continued in Part II, Beyond Iraq in the Global War on Terror: The Saudi Connection. This post is an anniversary review of a previous article, Why is the U.S. in Iraq?]

[Updated 4:45pm to insert a missing paragraph.]

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Global War on Terror at Home

Another small plane loses its way over the Washington area and fighter jets scramble to intercept. Noisy. Bits of flares in my back yard.

Reminds me of a day twenty-five years ago when the windows of my home shook: one of my neighbors, a former Iranian diplomat, shot by a phony postman. The assassin fled to Iran to become a movie star -- experience, I suppose.

You see, I was never one of those people who thought the GWOT began on September 11th, 2001. It's just that this was the day we Americans started to fight back. Better the screech of fighter jets and the glare of flares than the death rattles and toasted bodies of terrorists' victims.

Many years ago, long before the GWOT, police at Dulles airport noticed a man acting suspiciously; he was obviously agitated by the heavy paper bag he was holding. something he had just been given by a passing acquaintance. He dumped it in the garbage and fled. The cops called the bomb squad. The bomb squad gingerly took the package out onto the field and detonated it. They examined the remains carefully and determined they had blown up a box of fudge.

Thanks to the U.S. military, I no longer experience a sense of helplessness and impending doom when I look up at the sky, even if there is a plane out there with my name on it. If the errant small plane overhead yesterday had been shot down, I don't think I would have felt any different.

Perhaps the terrorists will strike the U.S. again, and we civilians will once more share the dangers of our troops abroad. (The last time that happened was two years ago, when the Washington-area snipers were on the prowl. One of their "kills" was the mother of a child at the elementary school across the street.) Such events don't diminish my respect for our troops or the GWOT one inch.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Check out this post at The New Sisyphus:

The Future of Public Diplomacy: Cutting Out the Middleman:

Our current PD program focuses on one thing and one thing only: the press...our entire system is staked on one central theme: that there is no more important conduit to the public of host countries than that country’s press or, in the unique case of the Middle East, in the trans-national satellite channels like Al-Jazeera. But what if that central judgment is incorrect?

I was going to post on this subject, but now I don't have to -- or at least, I won't have to write so much!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Captain Zarqawi Hook, the World's Most Famous Crook!

I don't think most Westerners realize that the terrorists' current targets are ordinary Iraqis because the terrorists need recruits. Consider the animated Disney classic Peter Pan as a metaphor of current events in Iraq. (Although Zarqawi and the Ba'athists aren't nearly as brave characters as Captain Hook.) At one point, Captain Hook and his pirates capture the children and Lost Boys and attempt to press them into his service:

So, Try the life of a thief,
Just sample the life of a crook.
There isn't a boy
Who won't enjoy
A-workin' for Captain Hook.
The World's Most Famous Crook!

As a special offer for today,
I'll tell you what I'll do.
All those who sign without delay,
Will get a free tattoo.
Why, it's like money in the bank,
C'mon, join up, and I'll be frank:
Unless you do, you'll walk the plank!
The choice is up to you

The choice is up to you.

Yo-ho, Yo-ho, Yo-ho, Yo-ho, Yo-ho!
You'll love the life of a thief,
You'll relish the life of a crook.
There's barrels of fun enough for ev'ryone,
And you'll get treasures by the ton!

So come and sign the book.
Join up with Captain Hook!

Iraqis today learn from one of their television programs, "Terrorism in the Grip of Justice", just the sort of people they are up against: criminals and those who are in their grip. Kidnaping Iraqis and foreigners for ransom is certainly a profitable criminal activity. Threatening ordinary Iraqis with bombs and assassination may be persuasive: join us and make crime your career or die now!

So, why don't the boys sign up with Captain Hook? Well, at first they rush to do so, but stop when their "mother/sister" Wendy points out that this is a shameful activity and holds out that Peter Pan -- the strong, naiive, flighty, superficial boy-hero (an American, of course!) -- will save them. Wendy is the first to walk the plank.

Perhaps, like Wendy, Iraqi women are (or can be) the real moral strength of their people? This writer doesn't know. But for those who may still feel coerced towards a life of crime, consider the lyrics sung by the pirates themselves:

A pirate's life is a wonderful life
You'll find adventure and sport
But live every minute
For all that is in it
The life of a pirate is short.

(The Elegant Captain Hook Music by Sammy Fain. Lyrics by Sammy Cahn.)